Dan Kosten, Senior Vice President of US Programs – Suffering Prevention
In this passage we have two accounts from the life of Jesus that deal with the subject of Sabbath observance.
Before looking more closely at the stories let’s consider the Sabbath commandment. God created the world “very good” but man and woman failed to keep God’s commands and, consequently, the relationship between God and humans, humans and themselves, humans and humans, and humans and the environment were broken – no longer very good.
God, therefore, took what had been written on human hearts and wrote it on stone because, in their fallen state, they had to learn it anew. In essence, these laws were given to prevent further suffering. In His love, God set minimum standards by which we should live to prevent suffering and secure a full life.
The Sabbath is meant as a day for us to remember what God has done and what He continues to do to restore the four broken relationships mentioned earlier. We need a day to stop, rest, and remember that, as Archbishop Oscar Romero says, “we are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs,” clay, not the potter.
With this in mind, let’s look at these two Sabbath stories. In the first, Jesus’ disciples harvested some grain and ate it. The Pharisees condemned this as breaking Sabbath law. Jesus provided them with an Old Testament precedent to correct their mistaken interpretation. The Sabbath was created to prevent suffering, for our good, not harm. Further, Jesus established that He is Lord of the Sabbath.
The second story addresses how the Sabbath was (and still is) meant to prevent suffering, to save life, not to destroy it. In this story there is a man with a dysfunctional right hand; both the Pharisees and scribes were watching to see if Jesus would heal him on the Sabbath. Jesus knew what they were thinking, questioned them, and then told the man to stretch out his hand. When he did, he was healed.
Jesus probably never violated the letter of the Pharisaical law. He did not eat the grain spoken of in the first story, nor did he do any physical work in healing the man. He spoke and the man was healed. May we not, like the Pharisees, worship the Law over the Lawgiver and may it not surprise us that the One who prevents suffering is also the one who heals us from it.